6 october 2016

[4C Note: The Coounty of Lancashire in north west England (pop. 1,461,000), in response to widespread protests from climate activists, had banned fracking, which is a way of extracting natural gas from undergound shale rock formations by hydraulic fracturing. The UK government's acceptance of a legal appeal by the company that contracted for the fracking probably means that it will now be impossible for local councils elsewhere in the UK to ban the practice. Occurring on the day after the European Parliament's approval of the Paris climate accord to curtail global warming opened the way for its global adoption, the Conservative government's nihil obstat to fracking suggests that post-Brexit Britain is preparing to leave not only the EU but planet earth as well.]

Fracking given UK go-ahead as Lancashire council rejection overturned

Communities secretary, Sajid Javid, has accepted an appeal from Cuadrilla against an earlier decision to turn down their plans to frack on the Fylde

Adam Vaughan, The Guardian, Thursday 6 October 2016

Sajid Javid has overturned Lancashire council’s rejection of a fracking site, paving the way for shale company Cuadrilla to drill in the county next year and provoking outrage from local groups, environmentalists and politicians.

The council cited visual impact and noise when it turned down the company’s two planning applications to frack on the Fylde last year, but a month later Cuadrilla submitted an appeal.

On Thursday, the communities secretary, Javid, said he had accepted the appeal for one of the sites, at Preston New Road. The move marks a major step up in the scale of exploratory fracking in the UK, as it green lights four wells compared to the single well approved for fracking in North Yorkshire earlier this year.

“Shale gas has the potential to power economic growth, support 64,000 jobs, and provide a new domestic energy source, making us less reliant on imports,” said Javid. “We will take the big decisions that matter to the future of our country as we build an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.”

Preston New Road Action Group, a local anti-fracking group, said it was “devastated” by the decision. “This is a sad day as it is clear to all that this government neither listens, nor can it be trusted, to do the right thing for local communities. It is deplorable that an industry that has been rejected on every level has inflicted itself on Preston New Road,” said Pat Davies, the group’s chair.

Javid deferred a decision on the second site, at Roseacre Wood, to give Cuadrilla more time to provide evidence on road traffic issues and to allow other parties to make further representations. But he said he was “minded” to grant planning permission at that site too, which would see a further four wells drilled and fracked.

The ruling by the government comes a day after the Paris climate agreement – which requires countries to effectively phase out fossil fuels entirely later this century – passed the threshold for ratification.

Greenpeace campaigner Hannah Martin said: “This fudged decision shows the government is struggling to force fracking on a reluctant nation. Fracking will put our countryside and air quality at risk.

“Digging up more fossil fuels that we can’t burn if we are to honour the international agreement we signed in Paris, and is coming into force next month, makes little economic or environmental sense.”

Friends of the Earth said that its “fight continues” against the shale industry.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green party strongly condemned the move. “This decision sets a very dangerous precedent, with the government riding roughshod over the will of the local people,” said the Lib Dem spokesperson, Lynne Featherstone.

Barry Gardiner MP, Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary, said: “The government’s decision bulldozes local democracy and risks locking Britain into an old-fashioned dirty energy infrastructure when we should be seizing the opportunities for new long-term jobs and investment in a clean energy future.”

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, said: “Ministers promise to support ‘ordinary people’ but have ignored the people of Lancashire – including local and district councillors and the overwhelming majority of local people who objected to these reckless plans.

“They claim to support the Paris agreement, but are hellbent on developing new fossil fuel projects.”

Cuadrilla has told the Guardian that April 2017 is the earliest date at which drilling will begin. It will be the first time horizontal fracking has been undertaken in the UK, and the first time Cuadrilla has fracked under homes.

Francis Egan, the company’s CEO, welcomed the government’s decision: “We are very pleased that we can now move ahead with our shale gas exploration plans which will start to create new economic growth opportunities and jobs for people in Lancashire and the UK.”

He added that he was confident the company’s operations would be safe. “We hope this will reassure the minority of people whom remain sceptical about shale gas exploration. This news has given Lancashire a big vote of confidence in its economic and energy future.”

He had argued earlier in the day that the UK needed domestically produced gas.

“The country needs gas,” he told Good Morning Britain. “The country is running out of gas, and without some form of energy development, we’re going to end up importing all of our fuel from overseas, and we’ve seen that just last week with the ridiculous situation where Scotland is importing shale gas from America, which frankly is crazy.”

The industry said today was “an important step” towards determining how much shale gas the UK had. Ken Cronin, chief executive of trade body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (Ukoog), said: “We need the gas to heat our homes, produce electricity, supply our industries and to reduce our dependency on imports.”

EY, one of the “big four” professional services companies, and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said the decision was welcome, as it would create jobs and secure gas supplies.

A spokesperson for the government said: “The communities secretary has today allowed three planning appeals [two for seismic monitoring equipment] related to two proposed shale gas exploration and monitoring sites in Lancashire.

“The decisions follow extensive consideration of all the evidence, including an independent planning inspector’s report and evidence submitted during a two week public inquiry.”

In the government’s decision letter, Javid said that while he agreed there would be some short-term visual and landscape impact at both sites from fracking rigs and works, the sites would be remediated later, and the cumulative impact was both limited and not significant.

On the traffic concerns for the Roseacre Wood site, he said the development would have a “very significant adverse impact on the safety of people using the public highway”. But he said he was reopening the inquiry to see if Cuadrilla could prove its mitigation measures for traffic were workable.

Lancashire council said it hoped ministers would do more to address local concerns. “A local council, made up of councillors democratically elected by local people, and charged with serving their interests, is exactly the right body to make decisions on local matters.

“It is clear that the government supports the development of a shale gas industry, but I would ask them to do more to address the concerns of local communities and the councillors who represent them by supporting the best environmental controls,” said county councillor, Marcus Johnstone.

Judith Blake, the Local Government Association’s environment spokesperson, added: “It should be up to local communities to decide, through their locally democratic planning systems, whether or not to host fracking operations in their areas.”

The government said it had considered a report from its statutory climate advisers in July, which concluded that fracking would break the UK’s carbon targets without stricter rules, but it was not relevant to the appeal process.

“The secretary of state [Javid] has taken these documents ... into account,” said the appeal decision. “How shale gas relates to the obligations such as those set out in the Paris agreement and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change carbon budgets are a matter for future national policy and not for these appeals.”

Richard Black, director of the UK-based environmental thinktank, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, noted that emissions from shale gas would count against the UK’s carbon targets, unlike gas imports which come mostly from Norway and Qatar.

“It’s worth noting too that fugitive emissions of methane from shale gas extraction will count against our domestic climate change targets, whereas for imported gas they don’t. That’s why the Committee on Climate Change recommends that the government needs to regulate these emissions very tightly – and we’re waiting for the government’s response on that,” he said.

The decision to push through the fracking in Lancashire comes shortly after Labour said it would ban the controversial method of extracting shale gas if it came to power, and the first shipment of fracked US shale gas arrived in the UK, though that was for chemical production not energy.

Nottinghamshire council was due to decide on Wednesday on an exploratory shale well drilling by iGas near Doncaster, but delayed the decision to 15 November after a last-minute intervention by Friends of the Earth.

A bid by Third Energy to frack in North Yorkshire was approved in May, although that has been delayed into 2017 by a legal challenge, also from Friends of the Earth. The industry has conceded that no wells are likely to be drilled this year.

One expert said it was by no means clear that the government’s move would lead to a big uptick in fracking elsewhere in the country.

Prof Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, a partnership between government, industry and academia, said the decision: “does not necessarily mean that UK shale gas development will take off in a significant way.

“The economics of shale extraction in the UK are still highly uncertain, and it is not known whether shale production will deliver gas cheaper than that currently used by UK consumers. The costs of UK shale will not be clearer until a significant amount of exploratory drilling takes place.”

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